California Gold Rush

California Gold Rush

I can explain the importance of the California Gold Rush and how it changed...

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California Gold Rush

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This lesson focuses on the discovery of gold and how Americans who wanted to move to California started up the Oregon Trail. Forty-niners, the “Gold Fever,” life in the mining camps, and the westward movement are all discussed. Students also learn about the impact on California and the population boom as well as economic growth.

Learning Objective

Students will be able to analyze the expansion of the United States in the early nineteenth century to trace U.S. growth and form hypotheses about future conflicts. They will be able to describe the effects of the California Gold Rush on the United States.


Explain that at the end of the Mexican-American war, the United States gained control of Mexican territories in the West, which included present-day California. Americans slowly began settling there, until the discovery of gold brought quick population growth and an economic boom. Students will be asked to discuss the following questions before beginning the lesson: What types of people do you believe participated in the California gold rush, and how did they take part in it? What possible problems do you think can arise by the arrival of so many new settlers in California? Ask students if they would travel west to seek fortune in California.


Begin by describing the journey to California through the California Trail in the 1830s and 40s. Introduce John Sutter and James Marshall. Describe the process of mining for gold as well as life in the mining camps and go over the economic and population boom. Be sure to discuss the violence against Native Americans as well as the discrimination towards Chinese immigrants. Have students decide if the California Gold Rush had a generally positive or negative impact on California and write their responses.


Check student understanding with ten multiple-choice and true or false questions.


Students will complete a diagram demonstrating how the discovery of gold changed California. Then they will write a journal entry from the perspective of a young male in the 1840s traveling westward to strike it rich in California.

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